To say I was the last one picked for everything I ever went out for is not an exaggeration. I am sharing my story with you because I want with all my heart for you to know that I understand all about rejection and bullying. To add some immediate salve to the wound I will assure you that the wonderful healer, the Lord Jesus Christ, has taken all the pain out of these following memories as only He can.
My father’s parents were financially poor tenant farmers in Pennsylvania. In that region of the country, larger farms provided small houses for the families of full time farm hands. Since they were living rent free, the farm hands were only given a very small stipend in return for their backbreaking sunup to sun down labor. They eked out a meager existence, mostly living off the land and the milk, meat, and eggs that the main farm produced. In all the years that he was growing up, my dad’s parents never owned a home or a car.
A couple of years after my parents were married they bought a home in the small town adjacent to that farm and they both worked in nearby communities. There was a lot of small town nepotism in the school I attended. The farm-owner that my grandparents worked for was the Town Constable, the Chief of the fire department and the head of the school board. To say I understand prejudice is an understatement. To this day I still have a special place in my heart for our precious black and Hispanic Americans who were treated with prejudice. It wasn’t the color of my skin that pushed to the “back of the bus,” but two other predominant things, the first being the “poor folk tenant farmers grandkid.”
Secondly, although it is humbling to admit, but I must be honest, was born a very weak kid. I was not effeminate, but just a boy not born with all the vim and vigor of an average boy. It seemed like as a child I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of the dark, afraid of UFO’s, which were a frequent topic of conversation back then. I was afraid of scary things on TV. I would cry at the drop of a hat. Basically I was a sissified kid. To top it all off I was a bed wetter. After years of my Dads scolding, my Mother finally took me to a doctor. He prescribed a simple medicine, which I took before bed. Thankfully it stopped the embarrassing bed wetting immediately.
I was also very skinny and very uncoordinated. I was the type 1A Charlie Brown, always dropping the ball. So when it came to sports and especially Little League baseball, which my Dad coached, I was the laughing stock of the crowd. The rest of the kids in my school knew this about me, so whenever sides were being picked for any type game or competition, I was always the last one picked. “Come on Nolan, you can be on our team” was what I heard over and over again growing up as inevitably I was the only one left.
For some reason our little Pennsylvania village was short of girls, but there were many boys. We did walk back and forth to school every day and on the way home I often encountered bullies. Now not only was I a weak, skinny, sissified, bed-wetter, I had a hot temper. All it took was for one of those boys to start calling me names and I would start swinging my fists. Because of the previously mentioned inadequacies, when I started fighting, I got beat up a lot. Needless to say that was depressing!
Not surprisingly, I would often cry myself to sleep at night. Although I had gotten saved at nine years old, I knew little about letting God fight my battles. However, almost every night I would recite the twenty third Psalm as I went off to sleep. I did not know where the “valley of the shadow of death” was but it seemed like a pretty scary place to me. I remember thinking that if God could protect me there, He could protect me anywhere!
As time went on the stigmas seemed to follow me into my teenage years wherever I went in my community. I remember wanting so badly to be a basketball player because my Dad was one of the star players in the same high school I attended. I did however find that teachers in my school began to notice some of my academic gifts and artistic talents. Sadly my Dad was not impressed with any of those things. My tender heart so wanted to please him.
I also endured not being able to get a date with anyone in my high school. That can be the most painful rejection of all for a young man or young lady. The rejections that I felt in my heart were almost unbearable. I was convinced that I was different than everyone else. I’m sure that if there had been social media around during that time, all the meanness of social media may have driven me over the top. I did become suicidal by about the age of twenty-three but God by his grace and mercy spared me from self destruction.
Once again today in America, teen suicide has reached epidemic proportions. This time however, the suicides for the most part are occurring in a much younger group than in the past. Somehow in the private world of even junior high young people they are feeling bullied and rejected to the point of even despairing of life. I for one feel like I know a similar yet different pain than today’s teens, even though all my rejections were diverse, and for different reasons in my life. May God give us wisdom to reach them in a way that they can receive before it’s too late.